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ANGELS 8, KANSAS CITY 5 (GAME 1)

Angels win first game of doubleheader

Eric Aybar has three hits and three runs scored and Ervin Santana picks up the victory as the Angels defeat the Royals, 8-5.

July 22, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Ervin Santana pitched just well enough to win the first game, and Sean O'Sullivan gave the Angels 5 1/3 strong innings in the second game.

Mike Napoli hit a tying home run, and Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits drove in two runs apiece in the opener. Bobby Abreu hit three run-scoring doubles, and Robb Quinlan hit a solo home run in the nightcap.

But there was one player who had his fingerprints all over the Angels' doubleheader sweep of the Kansas City Royals in Kauffman Stadium, a youngster who usually doesn't wield a very big stick: Erick Aybar.

The Angels' slick-fielding shortstop had a pretty good week Tuesday, with three hits and three runs in an 8-5 Game 1 victory and a career-high four hits, including a game-breaking, three-run triple in the seventh inning, in a 10-2 Game 2 victory.

After 6 hours and 25 minutes of baseball, the Angels had their first doubleheader sweep since Sept. 6, 2003 -- that came against the Royals in Anaheim -- their eighth win in nine games and a 54-38 record, a season-high 16 games over .500.

They are a major league-best 25-9 since June 12 and have pushed their American League West lead over Texas to three games.

The Angels are also 8-1 and have scored 68 runs, an average of 7.6 a game, since middle-of-the-order hitters Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero went on the disabled list July 10. No. 5 hitter Juan Rivera has also missed five of the last nine games.

"We're very conscious that those two big guns are not here -- we miss them," Aybar, speaking through an interpreter, said of Hunter and Guerrero. "There is more emphasis on the little guys getting on base. If we're on, more things can happen."

Aybar has provided more than a spark. In 14 July games, the switch-hitter is batting .491, the top average in the major leagues this month, with 13 runs and 15 RBIs.

"That's the talent, the ceiling everyone saw," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's great to see a young player get comfortable and show the talent he showed in the minor leagues. Hopefully we'll keep seeing that talent progress."

The Angels took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning of the nightcap, thanks to the work of O'Sullivan, who gave up two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings to improve to 3-0, and reliever Justin Speier, who struck out John Buck and Ryan Freel with two on to end the sixth.

The Angels loaded the bases in the seventh on singles by Quinlan and Willits and a walk to Chone Figgins.

Aybar then greeted reliever Juan Cruz with a triple to the wall in right-center for the first three runs of a seven-run rally, the third time in eight games the Angels have scored at least six runs in an inning and their 10th rally of at least four runs in the last 16 games.

"I'm not surprised because we've seen it before," Aybar said of the Angels' ability to overcome injuries to key players. "With guys missing, we've seen other guys produce."

Santana (3-5) gave up five runs and eight hits in six innings of the opener, striking out seven and walking one, to win his second straight and put a little more distance between him and the elbow problems that sent him to the disabled list twice this season.

The right-hander's fastball was clocked at 96 mph in the first inning, and he threw two excellent breaking balls to strike out Billy Butler and Mark Teahen with the bases loaded in the third.

But Santana, one out away from escaping that bases-loaded jam, grooved a first-pitch fastball that Jose Guillen smacked into center field for a two-run single.

He also grooved a 3-and-0 fastball that Butler hit for a two-run homer in the fifth, which gave Kansas City a 5-4 lead.

Though 60 of Santana's 84 pitches were strikes, "his command wasn't as sharp -- there's a difference between throwing strikes and command," Scioscia said. "But when he needed it, he showed some real power breaking balls."

The Angels notched their 28th comeback win when Napoli led off the sixth with his 12th homer, Aybar singled and later scored on Willits' sacrifice fly for a 6-5 lead, and Aybar (double) and Matthews (single) knocked in runs in the seventh.

Matthews (single), Jeff Mathis (suicide squeeze) and Willits (single) also drove in runs in the second inning.

Comeback win No. 29 came in the nightcap, as the Angels fell behind, 2-0, after two innings and scored the next 10 runs.

"We've had a lot of continuity on offense," Scioscia said. "That needs to continue."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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